Booktopia deploys robots at its Sydney distribution centre

One of Australia’s leading online book retailers, Booktopia, has unveiled plans to trial autonomous robots at its 1.4ha Lidcombe Distribution Centre in Sydney as part of an ongoing investment program designed to increase capacity.

Booktopia will be the first company in Australia to trial mobile robots developed by Chinese company Hai Robotics when they begin operating in early 2021. The robots can increase operational efficiency by up to four times and increase storage capacity by 80 per cent.

The robots can move heavy payloads and reach up to 5m, allowing the distribution centre to add more high-density shelving, increasing the distribution centre’s capacity over time from 800,000 units to 1.8 million units.

The robots will further increase the efficiency in addition to the recent $12 million investment which has increased the outbound capacity from 30,000 units to 60,000 units per day. Booktopia currently has more than 2.3 million repeat customers.

Booktopia CEO Tony Nash said the robots will allow the company to double the amount of stock it can hold, improving delivery times for the most popular titles.

“Australian’s are expected to spend an extra $80 million buying books online this year taking the market to more than $1 billion for the first time… we need to be ready to meet that growth this year and into the future,” he said.

“Our distribution centre is already the largest and most advanced book distribution facility in the country and these robots will allow us to hold more stock and pick that stock faster.”

The distribution centre already includes some of the most advanced automation technology in Australia while complex proprietary algorithms analyse customer ordering trends to allow the company to make sure it always has the most popular titles on hand to ship quickly.

Shenzen-based Hai Robotics is a manufacturer of autonomous case-handling robots (ACR) that use artificial intelligence to load stock on to highly efficient storage shelves and then pick that stock when it is ordered.

In the last financial year, Booktopia reported a 28 per cent increase in new book sales during the 2020 financial year, with total sales topping $165 million for the first time. Demand for books has seen the company grow its customer database to 4.5 million, with over 1.4 million active customers.

Tony Nash said the volume of online sales had accelerated dramatically in the second half of the financial year.

“The growth of online purchasing of physical books has been increasing steadily, year on year, for many years,” he said. “The events of the last six months have now brought forward much of that future growth and we are seeing many of the converts increasingly convinced that online purchases are their new preference.”

“We have an extremely sophisticated e-commerce capability with an industry-leading conversion rate and a unique and growing database attached to a massive repository of consumer behaviour insights.

“It is this data and insights that have allowed us to see off various competitors and deliver a compound annual sales growth approaching more than 35 per cent since 2008.”

Tony said the Australian book and publishing market was in its strongest position in many years, with demand across numerous categories at record levels and major new releases, expected to drive sales right up to Christmas.

Booktopia will list on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) in early December.

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